Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A name with a (well, mostly) rich heritage....

So you know if you have discovered this website from my posting name that I probably live in the Middle East (assuming I am not talking about Cairo, Illinois). I do indeed live here in Cairo, Egypt. And judging from my post on Locke I am probably American. Right again. Well, I also am the proud mother of two sons. One is 14 and one is turning 13 in April. They are tall, strong, healthy (thank God) and reasonably intelligent (however did that happen) and of course they are a main focus of my life. This summer, for the first time in seven years (financial constraints) they are accompanying me to the U.S. to visit our relatives.

What has this to do with anything? Well, the fact of the matter is, my sons are Egyptian as well as American, and they happen to have Arabic, Muslim names. The 14 year old is named Omar Yasser. The 13-year-old-to-be is named Osama.

My youngest son was born in 1992 in Fairfax Hospital in Virginia. As you can tell from the ages, my kids were very close. Given that I have this illogical habit of listening to old wives' tales, I had assumed he'd be a girl because my pregnant form was so different than it had been with my older child. While I was in labor the doctor told me that based on the heartbeat pattern, he was a boy. Oh dear. We had no name prepared.

My husband started suggesting a bunch of names that all happened to rhyme with our last name, so I ruled them all out. We spent a good half hour brainstorming. So many Arabic/Muslim names are hard for English speakers to pronounce or spell. So many others are, sadly, associated with negative stereotypes in the minds of Westerners and we knew enough to avoid them (which is why my first son had a double name instead of being just plain Yasser, actually).

Then my husband came up with the name Osama. This name is one of the seven Arabic words for "lion". (Two others are "Asad" and "Leith" - trust me there are four more.) It is easy to spell, easy to say, and could be shortened to "Sam" among friends. In 1992, it was not associated with anything or anyone with any sort of negative connotation.

Some other fun facts abuot the name Osama: It is also the name of a famous youth who fought in the early Muslim army, who wished to fight under the Prophet but was told he was too young, Osama Bin Zaid.

A modern Osama that had been in the news was the savvy and clever foreign policy advisor to President Mubarak, Osama El Baz, whose relative Farouk El Baz was a scientist at NASA.

Apropos of really nothing at all, but just to see how normal this name is: At the same time my son was born, Osama was a fad name in Egypt (you know how in certain time periods people all name their kids certain names -- when I was a kid, e.g., everyone in my class was named Sean or Michelle - well, Osama seems to have been one of the 5 top boys' names of the early 90s here in Egypt). In KG, he had 3 other Osamas in his class. His best friend from KG until now is named Osama Amr.

All in all, we felt that this was a beautiful, lyrical and perfect name for our son, who was born with a shock of mane-like hair and a very lion-like roar.

Our son has lived most of his life outside of his country of birth. He has lived in Tunisia, Saudi Arabia (VERY briefly) and Nigeria, and for the past eight years he has lived in his other country of citizenship, Egypt. He does not remember the US, as we left with the Foreign Service when he was two and made one short visit when he was seven. But he sure wants to visit. After all, it is his country as much as Egypt is. He plans to go to college there and wants to major in biology or astronomy. He speaks English with no accent, he loves to read, is a huge Harry Potter fan, and loves Mozart. His favorite movie is "Braveheart."

I don't know what to do about the fact that his name may cause people to look at him funny while in the US. In fact, I don't know what to do about the fact that I am worried about this at all. Should I go there on the assumption that people will be polite and not put ideas into his head that this may be a problem? Or should I raise the issue with him before we go? Are many Americans stupid enough to think that a kid his age could have been named after OBL (who no one heard of until his Fatwa against foreigners in 1996)? Will people actually be rude enough to bring the association up with him?

What really bothers me about this whole issue, is that we love this name so much. It is a beautiful name. He is personally quite proud of it, as he loves to identify with lions and what they represent (bravery, etc.). He also had to read a book about Osama Bin Zaid for school and is proud of that namesake, too. He does not know much about Osama Bin Laden nor does he really connect this strange, foreign person to himself.

It still, at the end, seems odd to me that a name could be the cause of such a painful inner debate. After all, it is just a name.


Leila M. said...


I'll link you, most wonderful!

Nelson said...

Hmmm... the other words for lion beside Asad and Leith... I know of Ri'bal, Ghadanfar, and Lebua, but I was never clear on the shades of difference between them other than that Lebua was for lioness.